The existing EU fertilizer law (Regulation EC 2003/2003 on fertilizers of 13.10.2003) regulates the placing on the market and thus the trade of mineral fertilizers within the EU. The main weaknesses of this aging regulation are its limited scope (mineral fertilisers only), lack of regulation of fertiliser inputs and lack of legislation on pollutants. Only Austria, Sweden and Finland are the only countries in the EU to be allowed to sanction compliance with a limit value for cadmium in EC fertilizers containing more than five percent phosphate in the course of official monitoring as a result of a Commission decision.
In recent years, traders and industry have increasingly used the principle of the free movement of goods on the basis of the Lisbon Treaties for the EU-wide trade in fertilisers, growing media, soil additives and plant additives. The free movement of goods permits the legal placing on the market of goods in one of the Member States to also place these products on the market legally throughout Europe - on the legal basis of the country of origin. In this case, the own national fertiliser law is practically ineffective, the market surveillance of such products is difficult and consumer protection is endangered. These legal uncertainties for trade and market surveillance authorities on the one hand and the lack of safety and quality guarantees for users and consumers on the other, led the European Commission, together with the Member States, to launch an initiative for a new European fertilizer law in 2010.
Aim of the new EU fertilizer regulation
The aim of the new EU fertilizer regulation is to create a harmonised law for trade in all fertilizer products (organic and mineral fertilizers, soil additives, growing media, biostimulants) throughout the EU internal market. This new Regulation should contain ambitious rules concerning the efficacy and safety of fertiliser products. An essential requirement was to create legal certainty and simplification for industry, manufacturers, trade and market surveillance by means of a uniformly applicable regulation and the associated standards and norms. This EU-wide legal standard is intended to create uniform competitive conditions in the product development of fertilizers. Relatively late in the process of drafting the new regulation, the EU Commission implemented the aspects of resource conservation and recycling management as additional objectives. In this context, the recycling of nutrients and valuable substances for the production of fertilisers from safe by-products and waste materials should be made possible in order to close cycles, reduce raw material imports and the extraction of non-renewable raw materials (e.g. phosphorus, peat).
Since 2016, a draft has been available from the EU Commission, Directorate General Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises).
Contents of the present draft of the EU Fertilizer Ordinance
The present draft of the new Fertilizer Regulation entitled "Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council laying down rules for the placing on the market of EU fertiliser products and amending Regulation (EC) 1069/2009 and Regulation (EC) 1107/2009" consists of one enacting part (7 chapters) and a total of five annexes. It is true that structures and basic requirements are laid down in the actual part of the regulation. However, the material and administrative requirements that later determine everyday life are mainly to be found in the five appendices.
Deciding part of the Regulation
The scope of the new regulation is defined in the enacting terms and is significantly extended compared to the existing EC fertilizer law (EC Regulation 2003/2003). A collective term "EU fertiliser products" is defined in Article 2, which is intended to cover the product groups (organic and mineral fertilisers, soil additives, growing media, biostimulants) covered by this legislation in future. In the spirit of the circular-flow economy, Article 18 defines the end of the waste characteristic in more detail, insofar as substances subject to waste law are initially to be used for the production of fertiliser products.
Articles 42 and 43 of the enacting terms entitle the Commission to amend the contents of Annexes II-IV by means of so-called "delegated acts" under its own responsibility, without having to go through the entire time-consuming legislative procedure. This amendment may only be adopted in accordance with Article 42 on the basis of new technical developments related to raw materials for the production of fertilisers from animal by-products and waste materials. This can be very practical in individual cases, because it shortens procedures, but it also gives the Commission considerable additional power.
The Regulation on hygiene requirements for animal by-products (Regulation 1069/2009) is amended by Article 45 in order to open up the possibility, with the help of an "end point" for the application of Regulation (EU) 1069/2009 to be set in the case of Regulation (EU) 1069/2009, to then provide for such substances in the new EU Fertiliser Regulation as starting material for fertiliser products.
The Plant Protection Products Regulation (VO 1107/2009) is amended by Article 46. This ensures that substances that are to be traded as "biostimulants" (one of the new fertiliser product groups listed in Annex I) are not also subject to the Plant Protection Products Ordinance. Transitional provisions in Articles 47-49 are intended to ensure that products already on the market can be used up under existing EU fertiliser legislation.
Annexes to the Regulation
Annex I defines different product function categories (PFC1 to PFC7). These seven main groups are partly divided into additional subgroups over several levels. For these product functional groups and their subgroups, the known material requirements are then met, e.g. minimum content of nutrients, maximum content of pollutants, hygiene requirements, requirements for TM content, organic carbon content and others. The following fertilizer categories are envisaged in the current draft:
PFC 1 fertilizer with subdivision into mineral, organic and organic mineral. PFC 2 Calcium/Magnesium soil improver to correct the acidity of the soil. PFC 3 Soil improvers divided into a mineral and organic subgroup. PFC 4 culture substrates PFC 5 inhibitors comprises nitrification, denitrification and urease inhibitors. PFC 6 Plant Biostimulants are fertilizers that stimulate plant nutritional processes regardless of the nutrient content of the product, improving the efficiency of nutrient utilization and/or the tolerance to abiotic stress of plants. This product group corresponds to the plant additives of the Austrian Fertilizer Ordinance 2004. PFC 7 Fertilizer product mixture is a fertilizer product consisting of one or more fertilizer products of categories 1-6.
In addition to the product function groups, the draft regulation in Annex II for the first time also provides definitions and requirements for very roughly defined groups of starting materials. Fertiliser products may only consist of substances from these eleven component material categories (CMC):
CMC 1 Substances and mixtures of unprocessed raw materials; CMC 2 Plants, parts of plants or plant extracts; fungi and algae are included in the definition. CMC 3 Compost; including separately collected biowaste within the meaning of the EU Waste Framework Directive CMC 4 Fermentation residues from "fresh" plants; plants cultivated for the purpose of biogas production CMC 5: Other fermentation residues than fermentation residues from "fresh" plants CMC 6 By-products of the food industry (carbolics, molasses, vinasse, spent grains, plants according to CMC 2, lime from drinking water production) CMC 7: Microorganisms; currently only Azotobacter spp, Mycorrhizal fungi, Rhizobium spp., Azospirillum spp. A working group of the Commission is clarifying which genera are still suitable for the production of fertilizer products. CMC 8 inhibitors was moved in the course of negotiations to category 1 CMC 9: nutrient polymers; for the control of nutrient release CMC 10: other polymers with the exception of nutrient polymers; in this category the plastics are used to coat long-term fertilizers and to increase the water retention capacity of growing media. Seven years after their entry into force, the Commission is to adopt delegated legal acts establishing criteria for the degradability of these materials in soil. There is currently no standardised method available for determining the degradability of such plastics. CMC 11: Certain animal by-products; this category will only be filled with animal by-products if "end of animal by product status" criteria for certain products are laid down in Regulation (EC) 1069/2009. CMC 12: "Industrial by-products"; this category was included at the request of the fertilizer industry, as many harmless by-products from other chemical industrial processes are already used for EU fertilizer production (e.g. ammonium from plastics production, phosphoric acid, etc.). The EU Joint Research Centre (JRC) in Seville is currently investigating to what extent and with which criteria ash (especially sewage sludge ash as a source of phosphorus), struvite and products from pyrolysis (vegetable charcoal) can be used as starting materials for the production of fertilisers.
Annex III of the draft regulation lists the general labelling requirements such as product description, associated PFC, intended use and quantities, etc., as well as the specific requirements for the respective production function category (nutrient content, P-solubilities, copper and zinc contents, etc.). Part III of this Annex summarises the tolerance values for the positive and negative deviations from the declared nutrient contents.
Annexes IV and V describe the five possible modules for conformity assessment of fertiliser products depending on the category of feedstock used (risk dependent). According to this system, fertiliser products from unprocessed raw materials (CMC1), vegetable fermentation residues (CMC4) and residues from the food industry (CMC6) may be placed on the market by self-declaration and self-assessment (Module A) of the manufacturer. Before placing composts and fermentation residues from waste on the market, the manufacturer must submit test results to a "notified body" and provide evidence of a quality assurance system (module D1).
Summary of the
The proposed new EU fertiliser legislation has a broader scope than the current regime and covers all types of fertilisers currently on the market. For each of these fertilizer types, heavy metal limit values and other pollutants and, where appropriate, hygiene relevant requirements are defined. The definition of permitted starting materials was implemented by the introduction of the material categories in Annex II. The inclusion of various by-products and waste materials (industrial by-products, compost, fermentation residues, residues from the food industry) in the list of permitted raw materials contributes to resource-saving fertilizer production in accordance with the principles of closed-loop fertilizers management.
Contact of the author
DI Erwin Pfundtner Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety GmbH Institute for Sustainable Plant Production Spargelfeldstraße 191 A-1220 Vienna Tel.: +43 (0) 50 - 555 - 0